Gov. Mike Leavitt wants to get rid of incompetent teachers.

"It is painfully small . . . a handful of people (who need to) be removed because of incompetence," Leavitt told higher and public education officials and the Education Interim Committee gathered at Southern Utah University.Nevertheless, Leavitt called on the educators to shake "a cultural phenomenon in our schools" and work to edge out those who shouldn't be teaching.

The definition of incompetence varies, however, and districts implement different policies. Removing incompetent teachers could take months, maybe years, of due process. Conversely, excellent teachers need to be rewarded, Leavitt said.

In a later meeting, a group of lawmakers and education officials discussed a need to beef up the teacher certification process, possibly by tailoring lower division courses for teachers and requiring professional development. Suggestions are to be forwarded to the Joint Liaison Committee and perhaps the Legislature.

Leavitt also asked lawmakers to continue funding education programs, particularly middle schools, and to keep guns off campuses, plus a dozen other suggestions for maintaining or improving education in Utah.

"(We have) a need for schools to be gun-free and the Legislature needs to act on that," Leavitt said.

Leavitt's plea follows the 1998 Legislature's inaction on restricting concealed weapons laws.

Senate President Lane Beattie, R-West Bountiful, abandoned a bill to allow churches, homeowners and public schools to ban concealed firearms. Three Senate Democrats also wanted to amend a House bill to restrict handguns from churches and public schools, but Republican leaders held that bill. And the Legislature's attorney issued an opinion against Leavitt's decision forbidding state employees from carrying weapons in state buildings and vehicles unless their jobs require them.

Still, some school districts, including Salt Lake City, and the University of Utah have banned faculty and staff from toting guns on campuses.

In other news, Leavitt also asked public schools to "continue the miracle to do better with less." Utah ranks last in the nation for per-pupil spending, but its students usually manage to rank in the top 10 states on national tests.

Leavitt said he had no position on State Superintendent of Pubic Instruction Scott Bean's proposal to increase academic standards by lengthening the school day.

But he cited complaints from parents that time currently is not being used to its fullest when students, in some cases, check in textbooks a week before school ends.

"I believe the discussion needs to revolve around achievement, not time," the governor said. "Using the time now in the system should be a top priority."

Utah Education Association President Phyllis Sorensen has said teachers are not paid to stay after school ends to complete administrative housekeeping duties. Bean's proposal would offer 10 Career Ladder days, double what some teachers have now, which could help in that area.

Leavitt also urged educators to keep up on technology, challenging them to take a course via the online Western Governors University to taste technology-delivered education.

He also praised the Utah Board of Regents' master planning efforts, which include accountability measures, technology, system configuration and funding mechanisms, and urged the board to "envision higher education system that will clearly be a global marketplace" and "lift the level of learning of all its citizens."

"Utah has the capacity to become a center of this planet in technology-delivered education," Leavitt said. "This is an amazing time . . . you decide today whether that prosperity (in education) will continue."